This year, Christmas Day will be the same. The Lakers will play a game. Kobe Bryant will drive in from Newport Beach, no need for a helicopter on the empty 405. Jeanie Buss will leave Playa del Rey for the Staples Center. Jack Nicholson or Denzel Washington or perhaps Rihanna angling for camera time will make an appearance.
The Lakers have not missed a Christmas Day game since December 25th 1997. (1998 was a lockout year, all Christmas Day games were cancelled).
In 1997, President Clinton was in office. Gas was $1.19 a gallon. The movie Titanic premiered. Been Around the World– Puff Daddy & the Family featuring Notorious B.I.G.- was the number one song two weeks before Christmas. The Florida Marlins won the World Series. Steve Jobs returned to Apple. And the Lakers did not play on Christmas Day.
The 1997-98 Lakers team had Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel, Elden Campbell and Rick Fox.
That year, the Lakers last game before Christmas Day was on December 21st and they played and beat the Houston Rockets on the road, their fifth game in six nights. The Lakers won by 11. Nineteen year old Kobe Bryant, a bench player, was the leading scorer with 19 points. He had 0 assists. Elden Cambell had 18 points and 14 rebounds. Van Exel had 10 assists. (Shaq didn’t play because of injury).
The Rockets team consisted of an old Clyde Drexler and an old Charles Barkley and old Kevin Willis. Beating them wasn’t very difficult even after a road trip with two back to backs. The Lakers improved to 21-6 but were not glamorous enough to play on Christmas Day.
The Rockets played the Jazz on Christmas. The Bulls played the Heat.
The Lakers next opponent was the Clippers who were winners of 5 games. It was the day after Christmas. It was a home Lakers game, at the Forum. The Lakers and Clippers had yet to share an arena. It was an overtime win for the Lakers as they beat the Clippers by four, racking up 118 points. The Clippers had a 32 point Lorenzen Wright performance and Rodney Rogers added 21 points. For the Lakers, Nick Van Exel had 30 points and Rick Fox only missed two shots. Kobe Bryant added 16 points, leading all bench scorers.
18 years later, the two teams will meet on Christmas Day 2015 in a reversal of identities. It may be the Lakers who will have won 5 games and the Clippers who will have won 21.
The only remaining member of that 1997 Lakers-Clippers game that was not played on Christmas but the day after is Kobe Bryant. Everyone else has retired.
Although the Lakers always play on Christmas Day, they rarely win. They are 6-11. But, that’s irrelevant. They show up every year on Christmas Day because they bring in viewers, Kobe fans, Kobe haters, Lakers fans, Laker haters. The Lakers, even in the midst of mediocrity, make money for the league and so they will continue to haunt the airwaves. As long as Kobe Bryant is active, the Lakers and their three ring drama circus will show up on television during the holidays. Last year, the Lakers Christmas Day game against the Bulls was entertaining until the Bulls pulled away in the 4th quarter. Consequently, the Bulls-Lakers ratings on TNT were higher than the Warriors and Clippers annual hate-fest that followed it.
photo via redsarmy.com